Friday, January 23, 2009

Bipartisanship In Action: Senate Republicans Rush to Confirm Labor Secretary

While lack of subtlety can ruin sarcasm, sometimes too much subtlety can cause sarcasm to be lost, especially in print. So I want to point out that when reading the title above in your head, you should lend it the most acidic tone you can imagine.

Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee may place a procedural hold on the nomination of Labor Secretary-designate Rep. Hilda Solis of CA. While they claim that their reluctance to confirm her is connected to what they perceive as her failure to answer questions, it really comes down to one issue. They have been trying to bait her into answering toxic political questions they can then use as an excuse to vote against her. Most notably, the fact that she would be a Labor Secretary devoted to defending the rights, safety, and livelihood of people who actually labor.

Rep. Solis co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act (card-check) in the House. Most Republicans (and some Democrats) oppose card-check because it would make it much easier, procedurally speaking, for workers to unionize. Big business, as a rule, opposes card-check for the same reason. They claim that card-check would make it easier for unions to intimidate workers into joining, but I suspect their real concern is that card-check makes it much harder for them to intimidate their employees into not joining. Card-check is one of the reasons that Wal-Mart held meetings to attempt to order its employees to vote for Senator John McCain in our late election. Considering Wal-Mart's employee policies, and indeed considering the employee policies of many employers in the South and lower Midwest and the expansion of such insidious policies as 'right to work' (which is more properly the right to deny your workers their rights to unionize or defend themselves from exploitation) and 'at will' (which the employer's right to fire the employee at anytime without notice or cause and the employee's right to quit at anytime... and to be penalized for failure to give notice) one can see that big business has a lot to lose both from card-check and from a Labor Secretary concerned with protecting the rights of workers.

While corruption among union management has sometimes been a real problem, it is ridiculous to paint labor unions as corrupt institutions by nature in the manner conservatives have always attempted. One only has to look at the top level management of nearly any American corporation to argue that big business is the last American institution to have any right to accuse any other of corruption. Certainly the last to have any right to claim to be the hero, protecting the rights of their workers against evil unions.

It comes down to a question of power. As our current system stands, the big corporation has all the power and their employees have very little recourse. This is due to a combination of factors into which I will not go in this posting, but many have mentioned many times. American wages have gone down as a result of these factors, as have opportunities for employment. As a result, the people supplying 'the good jobs' have a tremendous advantage over their employees: they can simply fire anyone they please and find someone else eager to replace them and desperate for a job. They can then repeat the process, avoiding the need to give costly raises or benefits that hurt the bottom line and cut into multimillion dollar bonuses for the CEO who tanked the profits last year.

Free Choice takes a step in giving employees some share of power over their lives, and some small semblance of power to protect their rights. Senator Orrin Hatch (R - UT) has been quoted as giving Rep. Solis a stern warning not to become a rubber stamp for the forces of big business or big labor.

Considering the source, that's ridiculous.

No comments: